Goals from Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny gave Arsenal a 2-1 win over Everton that sent the Gunners to the top of the table ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby.
Arsene Wenger’s men, who looked surprisingly fresh from their recent Champions League exploits, suddenly raced into a handsome lead in the first half with the French pair both heading in pinpoint crosses.
Ross Barkley was able to haul Everton back into the game just before the break when he rounded off a counter attack with a hugely-deflected strike which left Petr Cech rooted to the spot.
Giroud and Romelu Lukaku both struck the woodwork in the second half in an incredibly open game on a soggy evening in north London, with substitutes Mathieu Flamini and Gerard Deulofeu guilty of wasting great opportunities late on.
Gareth Barry then saw a second yellow card deep into stoppage time as Arsenal held on for their fourth consecutive Premier League win.
Arsenal wasted little time in trying to build on their statement victory against Bayern Munich in the Champions League during midweek. They harassed Everton by closing down high up the pitch and forced the visitors into mistakes when in possession.
A flurry of corners came Arsenal’s way within the opening ten minutes, but Tim Howard in the Everton goal remained untested as both Giroud and Gabriel headed wide from inside the area.
The hosts continued to tease the opening goal when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shaped to shoot from the edge of the box in the 20th minute until he was robbed of the ball by the backtracking Aaron Lennon.
The winger, on loan from Tottenham, then carved out Everton’s first chance of the game with 27 minutes on the clock. His tame cross, which skimmed across the slick surface, was pawed away by Cech and into the path of John Stones, who could only send a scruffy volley wide of the goal.
Arsenal responded to the warning by peppering the Everton box with a fine array of crosses. The deadlock was finally broken in the 36th minute when Giroud made an intelligent run across his marker to meet Ozil’s wonderful cross and head beyond Howard.
Santi Cazorla then turned provider just one minute and 46 seconds later after he drilled a free-kick from the inside left channel into the heart of the penalty area where Koscielny doubled Arsenal’s advantage with an emphatic header.
Everton managed to claw their way back into the game mere minutes before the half-time break. Oxlade-Chamberlain saw his shot blocked from the edge of the area and, with Arsenal committed forward, the travelling Toffees launched a swift counter which resulted in Barkley wrong-footing Petr Cech with a strike that took a huge deflection off Gabriel.
Everton’s recovery mission suffered a setback when captain Phil Jagielka was forced off with a suspected knee injury shortly after the restart. His replacement Ramiro Funes Mori was kept on his toes almost immediately as the lively Alexis Sanchez and Giroud both threatened to restore Arsenal’s cushion.
The Frenchman, eager to impress once again with Theo Walcott rested, was inches away from reaching Oxlade-Chamberlain’s low, thunderous cross from the right side and then spanked the crossbar in the 69th minute with a curled shot from outside the box.
The Toffees, though, continued to carve out their own opportunities for an equaliser. An uncharacteristically quiet Lukaku kissed the woodwork with ten minutes remaining which left the increasingly nervy Arsenal fans on the edge of their seats, with Brendan Galloway also going close after rampaging forward from the left-back slot.
The frantic pace showed no signs of slowing down as the final whistle loomed with an unmarked Flamini heading straight at Howard and, within the blink of an eye, Deulofeu denied from point-blank range by an alert Cech.
Ozil then struck the foot of the post with a venomous strike from a central position, before Barry was red carded with seconds to spare which allowed the Gunners to see out an enthralling game and propel them to the top of the table.